By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Bill Cosby’s lawyers fought Tuesday to block a parade of women from testifying against him at his upcoming sexual assault retrial, saying the accusers are peddling “ancient allegations” that would prejudice the jury against the 80-year-old comedian.
At the same time, they argued jurors should hear about Cosby’s secret settlement with the woman he’s accused of molesting, aiming to portray her as a money-grubbing liar.
As prosecutors push to widen the scope of Cosby’s April retrial to cast him as one of the biggest serial predators in a Hollywood suddenly aware of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, defense lawyer Tom Mesereau said he wants to make the settlement a focal point of the trial on charges Cosby drugged and molested Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
Mesereau said jurors will learn “just how greedy” Constand was when they hear details about how much money she demanded from Cosby and what the star wound up paying her.
Constand sued Cosby after prosecutors in 2005 declined to press charges. Cosby testified over a decade ago as part of that lawsuit, eventually settling for an undisclosed sum. His deposition was sealed for years until a judge released parts in 2015 at the request of The Associated Press, prompting a new set of prosecutors to take a fresh look at the case and charge him.
The settlement ties directly to a claim from Constand’s former co-worker who said Constand spoke about fabricating sexual assault allegations against a celebrity so she could sue and get money, Mesereau argued Tuesday.
Cosby’s old legal team agreed with prosecutors to keep the settlement out of his first trial.
Judge Steven O’Neill did not immediately rule on the issue of the settlement or whether some of Cosby’s other accusers will be allowed to take the stand.
O’Neill allowed just one other accuser to take the stand at Cosby’s first trial last year, barring any mention of about 60 others who have come forward to accuse Cosby in recent years.
Prosecutors are trying to persuade him to allow as many as 19 other women to take the stand, including model Janice Dickinson, as they attempt to show the comedian had a long history of drugging and attacking women.
They’re also trying to insulate Constand from what a prosecutor called “inevitable attacks” on her credibility.
The defense contended that prosecutors want to call the other accusers to the stand because they’re desperate to bolster an otherwise weak case. Cosby lawyer Becky James told the judge that none of the women should be allowed to tell their stories to a jury because that would subject Cosby to “multiple mini-trials.”
“Even one would be too prejudicial here,” she said. “The inference is too tempting to say, ‘He must’ve done it here, because he did it before.'”
Pennsylvania allows prosecutors to present evidence of alleged past misdeeds if they demonstrate the defendant engaged in a signature pattern of crime. Prosecutors argue Cosby used his power and appeal as a beloved entertainer to befriend younger women, then plied them with drugs or alcohol before assaulting them.
Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted Constand, a Temple University women’s basketball administrator, while he was a powerful alumnus and trustee. He has said the encounter was consensual. He remains free on bail.
Of the other potential witnesses whom prosecutors want to call, the oldest allegation against Cosby dates to 1965 and the most recent is from 1990 or 1996, at least eight years before prosecutors say he assaulted Constand.
The allegations are impossible to defend against, James argued in court.
“It’s not about what happened 50 years ago. It’s not about what happened with other people,” she said. “The jury has to be focused on that one issue.”
Seeking to rebut the defense arguments, prosecutor Adrienne D. Jappe said Tuesday the other accusers show that Cosby had a long history of sexual misconduct.
“I didn’t pick the 19,” Jappe said. “The defendant picked the 19.”
Dave Zuckerman, a former prosecutor who now practices criminal defense in the Pittsburgh area, said the fight over whether other accusers will be allowed to testify is “critically important” to both sides.
For the DA, the ability to have several accusers tell similar stories about Cosby could bolster Constand’s credibility, “which I think might help put the case over the edge in favor of the prosecution,” Zuckerman said.
“Now it becomes more than just one accuser against Bill Cosby,” he said. “Now you have a pattern of multiple women.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand and Dickinson have done.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed to this story from northeastern Pennsylvania.